Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Big Youth: Natty Universal Dread [Blood & Fire, 2000]
Especially given the label's fondness for sonic byways, I admit that these three CDs of obscure-inna-Babylon Manley Buchanan filled me with gray-haired professional dread. Oh I-and-I of little faith. Youth remains an unimaginable original whatever his debt to U-Roy, whose (comparatively) suave presence on the two-part "Battle of the Giants" only highlights the younger toaster's innocence and joy. Rapping, chanting, preaching, sing-songing, ripping off War or Ike & Tina or the Last Poets, Youth never undercuts his race-conscious commitment to agape. Even invoking damnation's "Hotter Fire" he assumes no prophetic airs, and he details the poverty of "Riverton City" as if reciting a nursery rhyme--as if he's the little child who shall lead us. His mission is to render palatable a Rastafarianism he knows as the simple word of Jah. The rhythms are obviously essential. But only on the dubbier final disc do his revealed truths lose any charm. A-